By Brianna Griesinger, Marketing and Communications Coordinator
It was a Monday, like any other Monday here in Ollanta. Everyone was busy at work, coming and going from the market and the shops. But it wasn’t just any day for the 26 artisans of our partner cooperative Puskariy Tika, and many of their youngest children, who loaded up on two minibuses and set off for an Andean female entrepreneurship field trip. They were headed to the village of Marcapata, located a little more than a four hour drive southeast of Ollantaytambo. Artisans from the Puskariy Tika cooperative, along with a few others from neighboring cooperatives, would be meeting up with the artisan cooperative of Tres Alpaquitas located in Marcapata to learn how they transitioned from working with the support of a non-profit organization to working independently on their own, taking and filling their own orders.
Mercedes, head of our Women’s Cooperative Program, found the connection and knew this business of artisans would be a great example to the Awamaki artisans of what their cooperative could become and achieve if they keep working hard and working as a team. “They were a very consolidated group. They are similar to our groups in terms of educational backgrounds, so they are an example of how to continue in terms of their business,” she explained. Mercedes hoped that the visit would show an example to the artisans that they “can undertake work on their own; and that they should take advantage of the support that Awamaki provides their new business in training.”
After a long first day of driving south, roadside stops, and beautiful views, we arrived to the town of Marcapata after dark. In the town center, a small plaza opened up to several family hostels where our group divided up to stay the night.Everyone woke up to a foggy morning right on the border of the Andes mountains and the rainforest. After breakfast we boarded the busses and headed off to the center of Tres Alpaquitas to meet with their artisans. At the center we filled every chair available in their main room and finally had the chance to sit down and chat. Martha, president of the Puskariy Tika cooperative introduced herself and her cooperative to the women at the center. After a round of introductions, the women of Tres Alpaquitas began a presentation, complete with videos highlighting their methods of production, such as cleaning and their yarn. It was clear this cooperative knew what they were doing in the industry of handicrafts. We were all impressed to view their brochures and catalogs and learn of their success with exporting their knitwear abroad.The women of Tres Alpaquitas were able to stress throughout their presentation the importance of setting goals for your business and also the need to invest in it, one of the more difficult aspects of starting a business for our artisans. “They are united with the same goal, so it is possible to achieve their own aspirations,” Mercedes later reflected. We were impressed to see that these artisans had transformed their small cooperative from a simple way to make money into something much larger than themselves, valuable enough to deserve the investment of some of their earned profit.
At the end of their presentation our artisans had the opportunity to ask questions, and also visit the small shop located directly in the Tres Alpaquitas center, a space they own and manage. The women from Huilloc inquired about everything from investment plans, goal setting strategies, methods for checking in on their progress, marketing and sales approaches, to specific knitting, spinning, shearing, and dyeing techniques that the artisans in Marcapata use for their products. Afterwards we were invited to enjoy a delicious meal together as a group.The parallels between the two groups was encouraging to both our team and the artisans for the future of the Awamaki cooperatives. Our sustainable model of development with each of our partner cooperatives provides many resources and opportunities for them to learn and grow as small businesses, but they are just the beginning phases. Graduated cooperatives like Rumira and Songuillay have proven that this goal can become a reality through the trainings Awamaki provides. Our goals remain to graduate each of our cooperatives and see them gain clients of their own to continue their work and supporting their families and communities. The women of Tres Alpaquitas also demonstrated an incredibly strong model of an independent small business of artisans, one that also began with the support of a non-profit, but transformed with time into a completely autonomous operation. While our artisans attend workshops and trainings that enable them to gain these necessary skills, it can remain difficult for the artisans to conceptualize succeeding in each of the required tasks on their own.This field trip experience showed them, a clear example of what their future might look like, especially if they continue to work as a team, set goals for themselves, and invest in their business the same way they invest in their families and communities. It was incredibly powerful to watch these women converse back and forth in their native language of Quechua about how with hard work this dream of independent business success is possible.
Awamaki is a nonprofit fair trade social enterprise dedicated to connecting Andean artisan weavers with global markets. We collaborate with women artisans to support their efforts towards educational and financial independence by co-creating beautifully handcrafted knit and woven accessories using hertiage techniques.